Yesterday the Indian Orthodox Church celebrated the memory of the Apostle Thomas. I wrote about Thomas earlier in the year, but since his name means “two” or “twin,” it seems appropriate to give him a second look, particularly to draw attention to the extraordinary effect of his evangelism and what his life can encourage in us.
“The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples,” once said Gregory the Great. “As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened.” In Thomas we have an example that “should heal our wounds of disbelief.”
I think that Gregory’s statement invites us to take Thomas’ life as an example for other things as well. After his encounter with the risen Jesus, as recorded by John, Thomas shouted, “My Lord and my God!” and the exclamation point fits him perfectly (20.18). If we can adopt his faith, we can also adopt his zeal, his enthusiasm and drive.
Thomas features almost exclusively in John’s Gospel, and I wonder if that owes to John and Thomas’ easy companionship because of their relative age among the Twelve. John was young, and Thomas betrays the impetuosity of youth. When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, for instance, the other disciples seemed hesitant. Not Thomas. “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” he said (John 11.16).
His zealousness and enthusiasm later followed him into the mission field, where he founded churches across Asia, going as far as India, the place of his martyrdom. John Chrysostom said that while Thomas may have started slow, he “toiled through the grace of God more bravely, more zealously and tirelessly than [the other disciples], so that he went preaching over nearly all the earth, not fearing to proclaim the Word of God. . . .”
The effect was stupendous. Thomas established churches, appointed pastors and bishops, healed the sick, even raised the dead. Even his relics, which were later taken to Edessa, were cause for the devil’s consternation. Hymned Ephraim the Syrian:
The Evil One wailed, “Where now, is there a place for me to flee to from the righteous? I stirred up Death to slay the Apostles, that I might be safe from their blows. By their deaths now more exceedingly am I cruelly beaten. The Apostle whom I slew in India is before me in Edessa: he is here wholly and also there. I went there, there was he: here and there I have found him and been grieved.
The bones that merchantmen carried, or was it then that they carried him? For lo! They made gain each of the other. But for me what did they profit me? Yea they profited each by each, while to me from both of them there was damage. O that one would show me that bag of Iscariot, for by it I acquired strength! The bag of Thomas[‘s bones] has slain me, for the secret strength that dwells in it tortures me.
(Nisibene Hymns 42.1-2)
During the Last Supper, Thomas asked Jesus, “[H]ow can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14.5-6). We should eagerly follow Thomas on the way and seek to become his twin in faith and zeal.